Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Well, maybe not if you own a business…
Entrepreneurs are famously hardworking, dedicated and passionate. But like everyone else, they need time off to relax, recharge and see friends and family.
Many women entrepreneurs have told us over the course of our 1,000 Stories project that a desire for flexibility, especially to be with young children, led them to start businesses. Many also include family life and the achievement of personal goals in their definitions of success as entrepreneurs.
But while women business owners often recognize the importance of a personal life, they don’t always make time for it. According to a February 2015 survey of 400 business owners sponsored by Capital One, 69 percent of women say that achieving work-life balance is very important to their definition of success, compared to 58 percent of men. Yet 31 percent of women say they don’t set any ground rules limiting their work hours and activities, compared to 25 percent of men.
For this special “Get a Life” series, we assembled an impressive group of experts and entrepreneurs to share their best advice for having a successful business as well as a personal life. Read on to see how they answered our first question:
What’s the best way for a busy entrepreneur with tight resources (or a busy employee) to control her work hours and take personal or family time — and maybe even a summer vacation?
A feeling of being starved for time pervades our lives, with 60 percent of employees in the U.S. saying they don’t have enough time for themselves, according to our research. Many of us respond by trying to work even longer hours — trying to get all the work done so we can have time to ourselves. To turn this vicious cycle into a virtuous one, make these mindset shifts:
Accept that work life “balance” is a myth. Balance is static, but life is not. Accept that every day is different, and anchor your day-to-day in your overall priorities in all aspects of your life. Write them down and make decisions based on what is important, not what is urgent.
Don’t do it alone. Most of us work in teams, yet we struggle with work overload by ourselves. Harvard Business School Professor Leslie Perlow has shown that, when we think of work life as a team sport, everyone wins. Make sure everyone on the team knows what is important to each member and helps each other have time for what’s important.
As any competitive athlete will tell you, rest and recovery is essential to sustaining high performance. Making time for yourself shouldn’t be something you do when everything else is done. It should be woven into the way you live and work in today’s world.
I’m sorry, I can’t respond because I’m on vacation…. Just kidding.
I was at dinner with several girlfriends who are also business owners and posed this question. We agreed that, honestly, in the beginning, you just didn’t take a vacation. You do what you have to do to get your business going. But you should make time for business conferences. You are still working on your business, but there is also downtime to get away and recharge. Most importantly, you surround yourself with other like-minded women and come back energized with new ideas and new resources.
When the time (and money) comes that you can get away from the business, you still have to make it work. A summer vacation is always a challenge! Many think it’s a beach getaway or a resort. I disagree. A vacation is simply unplugging or intentionally detaching from work! You can unplug and have fun, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Take a staycation or a road trip to spend time with friends and loved ones. It does cost time, but it’s worth it to recharge and come back motivated to work. How about carving out a few days? That’s completely in our control!
The key is planning and communication. At Eventbrite, we have a “take the time you need” approach that allows people the freedom to decide how they balance work and life.
It’s about making sure you plan for scheduled projects, seasonality in your business, as well as major life events and downtime to unplug, while communicating with teammates to make sure they can do the same. It sounds simple, but creating a shared calendar goes a long way in open communication and helps ensure that everyone can take the time they need outside of work to remain balanced.
Eight years ago, when I heard people talk about “work-life balance,” my first thought as a business owner was: “Yeah, right! There is no such thing as work-life balance in my world.” For me, a 17-hour work day was not a problem. Often times, I would work in the same room with family and join in on the conversations. Everybody should be happy, right? Wrong! My body was in the room, but my mind was not present.
Today, I know that work-life balance can be achieved by changing your mindset, taking baby steps to reduce to 8 hours and accepting that there is a happy medium.
The best approach is to learn how to be “be present, be consistent and be accountable.” Being present requires we be attentive at home, at work and during “free” time. Being consistent requires we realize that what we do each and every day matters. Where we spend our time and energy has a direct connection to how successful we are. Finally, when we hold ourselves accountable, amazing and wonderful things happen. So work-life balance is necessary for successfully growing our businesses.
Start by assessing the busiest days and times—as well as the slowest. Let’s say they own a store and it’s open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. If most customers come in before 6 p.m., try closing at 6 p.m. Entrepreneurs often feel the need to be available to every customer, which creates an expectation you will work 24/7. Only respond to customers during reasonable business hours, so you can re-set expectations of your availability.
Take full advantage of mobile devices and store business files in the cloud with a service such as Dropbox, Box or Google Drive so you don’t have to be at work to get work done and your hours can be more flexible.
For vacation, start small with a long weekend if that’s easier. Again, make sure you have mobile technology so you can access your email and data and respond to customers if it’s an emergency. To make it a real vacation, though, set a couple times a day to check voicemail and email, and don’t get sucked into working unless a true emergency arises.
For me, finding personal and family time is a priority, even though it can be very difficult to achieve at times. I’ve found that the first step to managing my hours and actually getting personal time is realizing the value of it: I am more sane, less stressed, more focused and overall happier.
The second critical step has been the ability to have control over where and when I work. I have both a flexible schedule and work from home, and these flexible work arrangements allow me to reduce conflict between my personal and work life while also empowering me to work when I can be most productive.
To be clear, I have to be disciplined in my time management, but having a flexible schedule and no commute allows me to be much more available for my family when it is important. Work flexibility is something that many entrepreneurs have the choice to implement in their companies, not just for themselves but also for their employees. I’m proud that it’s part of our company culture. It has helped me prevent burnout for myself — and also for my team.
I find I can more easily balance my work life and personal life because I have a great support team behind me. The key has been to hire the right people. Even with a staff of only eight, I have full confidence that everything will run smoothly when I leave the office. Each client has three advisors on their team, so if I am not in the office everything is still handled efficiently because other advisors are up-to-date with each client’s portfolio.
One thing I do is schedule all of my client meetings for the year, as well as the days I pick up my children from school, vacations and other events, right at the beginning of the year. Of course, meetings will sometimes need to be rescheduled, but if personal commitments are on your work calendar, you are more likely to honor them and take your personal time as seriously as your work time. It is also important to set away messages when taking time off so you feel that you can really switch off. Your clients will understand! Everyone is entitled to time off, and, of course, they have all done the same thing and struggle to find balance, just like you.